By Karen Billing
The Rancho Santa Fe School District is seeing a good return on its $350,000 investment of putting SMART Boards in every classroom at R. Roger Rowe School, according to Assistant Superintendent Cindy Schaub.
The interactive digital whiteboard, operated by touch, is basically a giant computer screen in the front of the classroom, allowing teachers to write in digital ink, save work and create a more fun, engaging curriculum, according to Schaub.
“When we undertook this massive installation of SMART Boards it was a leap of faith,” Schaub said. “It was up to the teachers to make it powerful.”
Schaub said they didn’t want them to become a “glorified white board” or just a lectern that teachers worked from. She has been pleased that in their first year, even the teachers who were most hesitant to use the new technology have come around and are using their SMART Boards to enliven their classrooms.
At the Dec. 8 Rancho Santa Fe School board meeting, Schaub brought in a couple of teachers who are taking full advantage of the new technology.
During Joy Freismuth’s morning routine in her first grade class, students are “coming up constantly” to be a part of the lesson. Classroom attendance or turning in homework is done by students dragging the snowflake with their name on it into the air on the board (Freismuth changes the themes monthly). They fill in what day it is and can press a link to sign along with a song about the days of the week. They graph the weather and count money by dragging it out of a piggy bank graphic and marking down how much they have in dollars and cents. They do math problems and can compete against each other to see who can solve a problem first at the board.
“If they don’t get to come up during math meeting they feel cheated,” said Freismuth. “So all the kids get to come up.”
In kindergarten teacher Lauren Stevenson’s class, she uses her SMART Board to practice reading. Instead of using one “big book” that the class all reads from, she took pictures of the book and uploaded it onto her board.
The pages are then enlarged at the front of class — students read together and Stevenson can teach a lesson about using the visual cues of the pictures (she can circle things John Madden-style on the screen for them to focus on) or use a digital post-it note to cover up words to help students sound out letters or guess words.
Schaub said the intent is for teachers to be creative and innovative in ways to use their SMART Boards—there is a SMART exchange where teachers can download templates and files that teachers everywhere are using. A new Safari Montage program, approved by the board last week, is a form of cloud computing allowing Rowe teachers to share their files and ideas with each other.
Stevenson took her opportunity in front of the school board to share her appreciation for the new boards.
“Thank you for this beautiful piece of technology,” she said. “I was very excited to dive into it and couldn’t wait to integrate it into my classroom every day.”
Schaub said she can only imagine the possibilities if this is as far as they have come in just one year. She said it’s great to see students so engaged, even those hard-to-reach eighth graders love using the SMART Board.
“Every hand goes up, everyone wants to come up and touch it,” Schaub said. “The engagement level is without a doubt higher than I’ve seen in a long time.”